23 Mar Covid-19: Advice for farmers and rural business owners on protecting vulnerable staff members
This virus has, within the context of our lifetimes and of contemporary safety law, created an unprecedented situation. The obligations placed upon employers are normally grouped within the legislation under legal, financial and moral headings. However, it would be remiss of us not to offer advice in relation to an employer’s moral obligations to vulnerable persons on your staff.
As part of our safety management system, we supply regular updates to our clients on matters of relevance such as changes in the law, HSE guidance and perceived best practice, as well as details of court cases where we feel that there may be relevant and constructive benefits to be achieved from the outcomes.
In this instance we feel some guidance on protecting vulnerable individuals in relation to the Coronavirus would be useful.
The statistics so far suggest that the most vulnerable group is those aged 70 or older. Mortality rates in the group are running between 8 and 15% of those who become infected. We advise that, for their own good and even where they are determined to work, that where you have employees in this age bracket, you support the isolation process and proactively exclude persons of this age from your work place, be they full time, part time, self-employed or contractor employees.
We would also like to draw your attention to the risks to individuals in the age bracket 60-69 who, upon objective assessment, would appear are at significantly greater risk than those under 60. This is particularly the case where they have an underlying health issue such as respiratory problems (Asthma, Farmers Lung), which are prevalent in the agricultural industry. Given the prevalence of these conditions in the rural community we feel that your duty extends to undertaking additional measures to ensure that you protect these individuals. There are many ways in which you can do this, but Safety Revolution MD, Oliver Dale would advise that you start with the following:
- Reissue medical questionnaires to be completed within 24 hours. These are then to be scrutinised to establish the existence and extent of any conditions
- Review all occupational health records to establish the presence of any such conditions
- Seek expert advice from an Occupational Health Practitioner where you are aware of such conditions
- Review your existing Risk Assessments – particularly CoSHH to ensure that exposure to any activity or substance which may aggravate such conditions is strictly regulated
- Conduct an individual Risk Assessment for any individual classified as high risk
- Hold regular team meetings to update and consult with the team and to inform them of any temporary, emergency measures you may be seeking to introduce
- Consider offering psychological support to any individual that is required to self-isolate
- Consider excluding contractor staff other than where absolutely necessary and where contractor attendance is necessary, reinforce your procedures to minimise unnecessary contact between individuals.
These suggested measures are not exhaustive but are designed to enhance and develop your Risk Assessment processes during this critical period as part of sustaining your wider safety management system. None of us know how the disease will develop, how severe the impact will be or how long that impact will be felt for, but it is entirely conceivable that it will be with us for many months, possibly recurring later in the year.
Oliver anticipates that we will be providing further advice in relation to vulnerable persons later in the year as peaks of activity such as harvest and the shooting season begin. In the meantime we fully recognise that everyone is facing very challenging workloads as you seek to recover from a very difficult winter and backlog of work, but we urge you to give full weighting to the needs of any vulnerable members of your team and act to protect them as necessary.
If you wish to seek further advice on installing a robust health and safety system in your rural business or farm, please contact the team at Safety Revolution on firstname.lastname@example.org.